Evaluation as a Socio-Political Intervention


In societies all around the globe, the contemporary practice of evaluation powerfully influences media headlines, political debates, and, most consequentially, actual social and economic policies and programs. Evaluation data on politically-contested programs are used, often by all sides in the debate, as fodder for public arguments about policy directions and program parameters. For programs of significant public interest or consequence (for example, an experimental program in health care subsidies for the poor), evaluation results capture national headlines. Interestingly, challenges to and debates about evaluation itself – its questions, designs, methodologies, and especially its values – rarely enter the public debate. This is so, even though evaluation is far from a homogenous social practice, and the character of any particular evaluation study significantly shapes, even constitutes in part, the results obtained.

In this essay, I will take up the challenges of evaluation itself as an intervention in public policy and program decision making. I will argue that the presence of an evaluation in the spaces occupied by a public program influences that program in particular ways, depending on the character of the evaluation. So, what is evaluated is a program-with-an-evaluation, rather than a program pursuing a course void of evaluative influences. For some evaluation approaches, the influences on the program are intentional and for others, more of an unintended and unobserved side-effect. The argument will begin with a general discussion of the logic of evaluation and how this logic constitutes an intervention, followed by a discussion of how the character of this intervention is connected to the evaluation approach being used. These discussions will focus on perhaps the most powerful lever of influence in evaluation, that of the values being advanced by the inquiry. In discussing evaluation’s values, I will somewhat summarily assert that democratic values are the most defensible of evaluation’s varied portfolio of value stances. Finally, I will illustrate the arguments made by offering examples of evaluation in action.

I offer these thoughts as a lifetime “theorist” and practitioner of program evaluation in the United States. My evaluation practice has focused largely on formal educational programs for children and youth, and has also included evaluations of non-formal educational programs (for example, summer camps or after-school programs) and a smattering of evaluations of programs in other domains.

Evaluation as a Socio-Political Intervention

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Numero 13 EVALUATION febbraio, 2015 - Autore:  Condividi


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